Charles MacPherson’s recent role as the ghost saxophone sound of Charlie Parker in the film “Bird” has brought new visibility to a too-frequently overlooked jazz musician. MacPherson’s alto saxophone playing on the film sound track was limited to ensemble passages (Parker’s solos were reproduced intact), but he clearly was chosen because of his fluent be-bop skills.
Saturday night at Catalina’s Bar & Grill, MacPherson had an opportunity to display those skills in a considerably more visual setting. Working with a solidly supportive rhythm section that included Allan Broadbent on piano, Alan Jackson on bass and MacPherson’s son, Charles Edward MacPherson, on drums, the saxophonist played an opening set that flashed and crackled with improvisatory fire from first note to last.
Opening with two pieces strongly associated with Parker--"Billy’s Bounce” and “Star Eyes"--MacPherson blended harmony-outlining be-bop lines with the stretched-out, leaner-limned phrasing of more recent jazz practices. On “Star Eyes,” with its lovely melody and provocative chord chart, the stylistic mix beautifully demonstrated the effectiveness of MacPherson’s be-bop-based but intrinsically eclectic playing.
He was equally appealing on two originals--"A Tear and a Smile” and “Illusions in Blue.” The former piece, a moody ballad in three-four, opened with a stunning rubato piano by Broadbent, who--as always--seemed as comfortable with lushly harmonized lyrical romanticism as he was with straight-ahead, single-line jazz improvising.
But the night belonged to MacPherson. Clearly determined to seize the opportunity presented by his association with the Parker film, he made the most of every moment. One suspects the results would have made Bird proud.